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Updated January 2023
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom line
Pros
Cons
Best of the Best
Chase Freedom Unlimited®
Chase
Freedom Unlimited®
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Good Rates, High Rewards
Bottom Line

If you plan to use your new credit card frequently within the first year, the initial cash back rewards on the Freedom Unlimited make it worth considering.

Pros

Introduction period allows card holders to earn additional 1.5% cash back on the first $20,000 you spend in the first year. On top of the 1.5% unlimited cash back, that's 3% total. You also get 6.5% cash back on travel and 4.5% back at drugstores. Long intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. Intro period is for 15 months and regular APR 19.24% - 27.99%% Variable. No annual membership fee.

Cons

Foreign transaction fees (3%) apply. Very good to excellent credit is needed for approval.

Best Bang for the Buck
American Express Blue Cash Preferred®
American Express
Blue Cash Preferred®
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Good Intro Offer
Bottom Line

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers numerous ways to rack up significant cash back bonuses on everyday purchases.

Pros

Long intro APR on purchases and balance transfers. Intro period being for 12 months and regular APR 18.24%-29.24% Variable. 6% cash back up to $6,000 at U.S. supermarkets (then 1%), 6% on some U.S. streaming services, and 3% back on select transit. Terms apply. Rates & Fees apply*. Annual fee is $0 intro for the first year, then $95.

Cons

Excellent credit is a must to be approved. Annual membership fee is $95. 2.7% foreign transaction fee.

Chase Freedom Flex℠
Chase
Freedom Flex℠
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Many Cash Back Categories
Bottom Line

The Chase Freedom Flex is slightly more complex than its cousin, the Freedom Unlimited, but there's a ton of potential value with this card.

Pros

This card offers 5% back on the first $1,500 spent on rotating quarterly bonus categories. It also provides the same baseline 5% back on travel, 3% back at drugstores, and offers a flat 1% back on everything else. The introductory period is for 15 months and regular APR 19.24% - 27.99% (variable) on purchases and balance transfers.

Cons

Rotating bonus categories require upkeep and may not apply to your spending habits.

Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards
Capital One
Quicksilver Cash Rewards
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Simple Rewards
Bottom Line

The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Credit Card is an easy and a great way to get cash back value for budget-conscious users.

Pros

It offers 1.5% back on every purchase, with no annual fee. It also offers $200 after the user spends $500 within 3 months from account opening. Unlimited 5% cash back on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel.

Cons

Its points aren’t as valuable towards travel as Chase or Amex points. Excellent credit level required.

Citi® Double Cash Card
Citi®
Double Cash Card
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High Flat Rate
Bottom Line

This is an extremely simple cash back card with an above-average flat returns rate. Also functions as a great balance transfer card.

Pros

2% cash back on all purchases with 1% cash back when you buy, plus an additional 1% as you pay for those purchases. No annual fee. 0% Intro APR for 18 months on balance transfers (balance transfers don't receive cash back); after that, the variable APR will be 18.24%-28.24% (Variable) depending on your credit.

Cons

Awards expire if not used in 12 months. No annual bonus or sign up bonus.

* Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express: Rates and Fees apply.

 

Buying guide for Choosing the best cash back credit card

Have you ever wondered if a cash back credit card would help your financial situation? Credit cards that offer this important benefit are more than just gimmicks. In fact, when used strategically, a line of credit that pays you a percentage back on purchases can earn you money over time.

Cash back credit cards are available in several options to fit your needs. While some offer a flat rate on all purchases, others provide variable percentages back depending on specific purchase categories. What's more, some banks even allow you to choose the category you shop from the most, enabling you to earn a higher percentage back on such items and services.

If you’re looking for a cash back credit card, BestReviews can give you the information you need to choose one that will make the most of your buying and saving power. Understanding introductory offers, interest rates, annual fees, and penalties will also help you save. Continue reading our guide below to learn what you need to know about cash back credit cards before you apply for one.

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Once you have a cash back credit card, plan your purchases strategically. Don't buy more than you can afford to pay back in full each month.

Key considerations

Is a cash back credit card right for you? Answer the following questions to figure out your options.

Do you shop a lot?

The more you buy, the more money you can earn with a cash back credit card, but that's just the beginning. You also have to manage your payments properly to reap the cash back benefits.

How do you pay your monthly credit card bills?

If you practice the financially responsible practice of paying off your bill each month before the interest is calculated, you can really cash in on the money paid to you in the form of a cash back balance. That's because you’ll be earning while you shop but not paying interest.

On the other hand, if you typically don't pay off your balances each month, or you make just the minimum payment, the amount you earn on a cash back card could quickly be canceled out by the interest that accrues.

Are you disciplined when it comes to spending?

Once you get a cash back credit card, chances are you'll be motivated to pay off your balance monthly and enjoy the rewards that accumulate. However, if you have a tendency to add up credit card debt by excessive shopping, it's probably in your best interest to set a goal to control spending with a plan to buy only what you can afford to pay off each month. This will help you get the most benefit out of your new line of credit.

Researching cash back credit cards

Types of cash back rewards

Not all cash back credit cards are created equal. Different cards have different reward payout amounts and structures. Here are the three main categories to choose from as you search for a cash back card.

Flat-rate rewards: Cash back credit cards that offer flat-rate rewards on purchases are the most straightforward to understand and use. Basically, the category says it all: with this type of card, you enjoy a set percentage back on any purchase you make. This type of card works best for anyone who shops from many categories and likes the idea of the simple reward structure.

Rotating rewards: These cash back cards provide higher cash back percentages, or accelerated benefits, for specific categories that change periodically, typically each quarter of the year. They may include restaurants, gas stations, and grocery or retail stores. Items bought in categories off rotation provide lower cash back percentages, often referred to as the “base” rate.

Shoppers' habits typically change each season, so the categories or rotating rewards cards are geared toward these variances. Think summer activities and travel, with accelerated rewards in those categories during the time frame. However, not everyone likes the strict rotating schedule of these cards, especially people who don't shop much from certain categories.

Tiered rewards: These cards offer varying percentages for different categories, as well as the option for the cardholder to choose which category gets accelerated benefits. For example, if you have this type of card and drive frequently, you may be able to choose 3% back on fuel while receiving 2% and 1% on other categories such as online shopping, hotels, and restaurants. Most cards give you the option to change your favorite category during a specific time period, typically once per billing cycle.

Features of cash back credit cards

Cash back percentages: Most cash back credit cards offer percentages that range from 1% to 5%. Flat-rate cards typically offer 1% to 2% rewards, while those with rotating or tiered rewards provide accelerated percentages on specific categories. Keep in mind that even when rewards are accelerated, 3% is typically the highest percentage you'll earn. Cards with higher cash back rewards are available, but they often come with annual fees and higher interest rates.

Balance transfer offers: Just like other credit cards, some cash back cards come with introductory rates on balance transfers. These may come with no transfer fees and 0% APR for a limited time. However, if you take advantage of this offer, you may not want to use your new card for cash rewards until you pay off your promotional balance.

Interest rates: The annual rate you pay for a cash back card is likely to vary greatly depending on your credit score and the bank you choose. Check with the card you choose before you apply. Remember that the interest rate won't affect you if you plan to pay your balance in full each month to make the most of your cash back rewards.

Annual fees: Not all cash back cards have annual fees, but as mentioned above, those with higher reward payouts are more likely to come with this charge.

Penalty and other fees: Cash back credit cards are just like other cards when it comes to fees for late payments, over-limit spending, and foreign travel. Banks vary, however, so check on these fees when you apply. Better yet, avoid late and over-limit fees by managing your account responsibly.

"A cash back credit card is a useful tool for promoting careful financial habits. Careful purchases and payments equal maximized cash back, which can be a strong motivator for financial responsibility."
STAFF
BestReviews

Common mistakes to avoid

Mistake #1: You don't check your credit score before you apply for a cash back card.

Some cards require you to have a specific score before you are approved. Check with the banks you’re considering to find out their policies, then check your score to see if you’re a candidate for approval.

Mistake #2: You fail to research your options.

There are so many credit cards on the market, choosing the right one can be confusing. First of all, make sure any companies you’re considering offer cash back cards — not all of them do. Next, check the terms of the cash back cards you find to make sure that the terms fit your lifestyle and spending habits.

Mistake #3: You apply for too many cards.

You might be excited to find numerous cards that offer cash back rewards, but don't get carried away by applying for several cards at once. Potential creditors pull your credit reports, which can result in what is called a “hard hit” and a reduction of approximately five points off your overall credit score. It's best to choose the best card and then apply.

Mistake #4: You apply for a new card when you already have a lot of credit card debt.

Having a cash back credit card can certainly be a positive step in your financial well-being, but not if you’re already deeply in debt. In fact, a new card may tempt you to spend more, plus you may not be able to pay off your balances in full each month to reap the total cash back benefits when you have too many other debt obligations. If you have other credit card debt, work on paying it down before you apply for a new card.

Tips

  • Be prepared to pay your balance off each month before applying for a cash back credit card. Remember that if you don't, the interest on your purchases will add up and negate the benefits of your reward balance. And just like with any credit card, always pay your cash back card on time each month or you’ll be charged late fees.
  • Use your cash back card for necessities. When you pay for items like groceries or household items that you would have purchased with cash, it's easy to train yourself to pay them off each month.
  • Check the terms of a cash back card to make the most of your purchases. Each bank's terms vary, but many offer rewards for purchases you might not expect, such as paying utility or medical bills.
  • Set a goal. Don't get discouraged if you can't pay your balance in full during a billing cycle on your cash back credit card. By setting a goal to get the balance paid off, and not charging more on the card until you do, you'll get back on track and be able to use your card again and continue racking up reward dollars.
  • Find the lowest interest rate. Search your available options for cash back cards to find the lowest interest rate possible. This will reduce the amount you owe should you ever not be able to pay your monthly balance in full.
  • Keep track of your purchases when you open a cash back credit card account. Check your statements regularly so you don’t overspend and you’re always aware of amounts due when it’s time to make your payment.
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Most banks will let you roll the money you earn on cash back purchases into a monthly payment, so the rewards balance can go directly toward new purchases you charge to the card.

FAQ

Q. Should I take advantage of a balance transfer offer on a cash back credit card?
A.
If you’re accepted for a cash back card that offers a limited-time promotional rate on balance transfers, this is another way you can save money. But keep in mind that purchases may not receive the same benefit. Ask customer service about the terms of your new card before you use it to get the most out of the special offer and cash back rewards.


Q. Can I use my cash back rewards card to splurge on a special purchase?
A.
Absolutely! Many people build up their rewards to use for a trip or big-ticket item. It may take a while to accumulate your cash rewards, but it's worth the effort when it's time to enjoy them.


Q. Do cash back reward balances expire?
A.
Not likely. Most reward balances have no expiration date, but it's always a good idea to check the terms of the issuing bank to be sure.

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