The Best Cash Back Credit Cards

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The 30-Second Review

The best cash back credit cards offer at least 2% cash back on certain purchasing categories (one our favorite swings as high as 6% for groceries). Choosing the right card for you comes down to knowing your spending habits, and matching the biggest rewards to your biggest expenses.

The 6% Card

A whopping 6% cash back on groceries, coupled with 3% back on gas and department stores, and 1% on everything else makes this card a no-brainer for anyone with mouths to feed and a car to drive.

The 5% Cards

The secret to getting the most cash out of a cash back credit card is knowing where you spend your money. Many cards offer their highest cash back percentages only for purchases in certain categories, like groceries, restaurants, or gas. And some cards offer those high cash back percentages in categories that rotate every quarter, which means you might not always be able to take advantage of them (like 5% cash back on gas when you don’t own a car).

It’s necessary to get really familiar with your spending habits before you apply for a cash back card. We recommend using a personal finance app like Mint or YNAB to track your spending by category — then you can use those learnings as a roadmap to the card that will give you the most for your money.

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express Earn 6% cash back on groceries, 3% on gas and department stores, and 1% on everything else.

That card might very well be the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, which gets an unbeatable 6% back on up to $6,000 of groceries per year, 3% on gas and department stores, and 1% on everything else. Those rewards are good enough that, if your spending habits align, you can likely pay off its $95 annual fee and still have more cash back than any other card.

Some of our other top picks include the Chase Freedom®, the Discover it® Cashback Match™, and the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card, which all offer 5% cash back on categories that rotate each quarter, and 1% on everything else. These cards are great if your spending habits are varied: you may get 5% back on gas during the summer months of road trips and then 5% back on Amazon.com during holiday shopping.

If you can max out your rewards, the Discover it® Cashback Match™ is the better bet — at the end of your first year, Discover matches all the cash back you’ve earned. If you’re a smaller spender, the Chase Freedom® is a good option; it gives a nice $150 cash back even if you only spend $500 in the first three months. (It also makes the perfect second card to pair with another high-rewards card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card — but more on that later.) We like the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card if you have some consistency in your expenses: you get to choose one “everyday” category (groceries, for example) that earns an unlimited 2% back in addition to the 5% and 1% rewards already baked into the card.

Our Picks for the Best Cash Back Credit Cards

The 6% Card

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express A massive 6% back on groceries and 3% back on gas makes this a go-to card for lots of people.

Let’s start with the card offering the highest cash back percentages — which conveniently happens to be in categories that pretty much everybody uses.

The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers an unbeatable 6% cash back on groceries purchased at US supermarkets, for up to $6,000 in purchases per year. In other words, if you spend $500 on groceries every month, you can earn $30 cash back every month. Plus, you’ll earn 3% cash back in two more popular categories — gas stations and select department stores — as well as 1% cash back on all other purchases.

And one more ringer: Through January 11, 2017, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers 10% cash back on the first $2,000 in purchases you make via Amazon.com during your first six months as a cardmember. That is flat-out the highest cash back offer we’ve seen, and it’s for one of the biggest retailers on the planet.

Here’s an example of how much you could earn with the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express over the course of a year, if you max out the highest categories and spend $1,000 in each of the other categories:

10% cash back on $2,000 in purchases from Amazon.com $200
6% cash back on $6,000 in grocery purchases $360
3% cash back on gas and department store purchases $60 ($30 for $1,000 in gas purchases, $30 for $1,000 in department store purchases)
1% cash back on all other purchases $10
$250 bonus cash back after making $1,000 in purchases in the first three months $250
Total cash back $880
Minus $95 annual fee $785

It’s not a perfect card. AmEx is accepted at many — but not all — retailers, and the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express comes with a $95 annual fee. It’s not a huge amount considering the rewards potential, but annual fees are a dealbreaker for some.

Finally, your cash back is only available as statement credits, which means you can only use your cash back to pay off purchases you’ve made on your card. If you want cash in hand instead of cash to put toward your credit card balance, you might want a different card.

  • Apply by 1/11/2017- Earn 10% cash back on purchases at Amazon.com in the first 6 months, up to $200.
  • Plus, earn $150 back after you spend $1,000 in purchases on your new card within the first 3 months.
  • You will receive cash back in the form of statement credits.
  • Everyday Cash Back: 6% at U.S. supermarkets on up to $6,000 per year in purchases (then 1%); 3% at U.S. gas stations; 1% other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • No rotating reward categories. No enrollment required.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit. You can only earn cash back on eligible purchases.
  • 0% intro APR on purchases and balance transfers for 12 months, then a variable rate, currently 13.24% to 23.24%, based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and Conditions apply.
  • See Rates & Fees

The 5% Cards

Chase Freedom® Bonus rewards like $150 cash back after $500 in purchases make this card a great pick for smaller spenders.

Three cards — the Chase Freedom®, the Discover it® Cashback Match™, and the U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card — all offer 5% cash back in various categories, and they are all excellent cards. With Chase and Discover, your 5% cash back categories rotate every quarter; with U.S. Bank, you get to choose which categories get you 5% cash back.

Chase’s and Discover’s rotating 5% cash back categories include everything from “wholesale clubs” (think Sam’s Club and Costco) to “local commuter transportation” (think subways and buses) — as well as more familiar categories like restaurants, gas, and Amazon.com. U.S. Bank’s 5% cash back category options are predominantly themed around stores: clothing stores, sporting goods stores, bookstores, and so on.

Discover it® Cashback Match™ A good card for bigger spenders: Discover will double your cash back at the end of your first year.

Each of these cards offers an additional way to increase your cash back rewards. The Chase Freedom® has two bonuses that you can earn in the first three months of opening your account: $25 after you add an authorized user and make your first purchase, and $150 after you make $500 in purchases. The Discover it® Cashback Match™ lives up to its name by matching your cash back at the end of your first year as a cardmember. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card doesn’t give you a bonus, but it does give you the opportunity to earn 2% cash back on your choice of an “everyday category” (like gas or groceries).

You can redeem all of this cash back as deposits into your account, if you want; you’re not limited to just earning statement credits. Plus, none of these cards charge an annual fee — which means more cash in your pocket.

Here’s an example of how much you could earn with each of these cards over the course of a year, if you max out the highest categories and spend $1,000 in each of the other categories:

Chase Freedom®

Discover it® Cashback Match™

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card

5% cash back on up to $1,500 every quarter in rotating categories
$300 ($75 per quarter)
$300 ($75 per quarter)
N/A
5% cash back on up to $2,000 every quarter in two categories you choose
N/A
N/A
$400 ($100 per quarter)
2% cash back on your choice of one everyday category
N/A
N/A
$20
1% cash back on all other purchases
$10
$10
$10
$25 bonus after you add your first authorized user and make your first purchase (Chase only)
$25
N/A
N/A
$150 bonus after you make $500 in purchases (Chase only)
$150
N/A
N/A
Cash back doubled at the end of your first year (Discover only)
N/A
$310
N/A
Total cash back
$485
$620
$430

U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card There's no limit to how much you can spend — and earn — in whichever 2% "everyday" category you choose.

The Discover it® Cashback Match™ could get you the highest cash back of any of these cards (at least for the first year you use it), but it all depends on your spending habits. The U.S. Bank Cash+™ Visa Signature® Card doesn’t put a limit on how much cash back you can earn on your 2% “everyday category,” so if you spend $500 on groceries every month (or $6,000 in a year, as opposed to the $1,000 in our example above), you could earn $120 cash back in just that category by the end of the year. If you’re not a huge spender, you might want to take advantage of the Chase Freedom® bonuses, which give you high cash back value without requiring a lot of purchases.

What’s the catch? All of these cards require you to enroll in their 5% cash back programs every quarter. You have to visit each credit card’s website and click a few buttons to say, “Yes, I want 5% cash back in this quarter’s categories” — or, in the case of U.S. Bank, you have to manually choose your 5% cash back categories. If you procrastinate or forget, you won’t get your high cash back rewards.

The 3% Card

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express You only get 3% back on groceries and 2% on gas, but unlike the Blue Cash Preferred® Card, there's no annual fee.

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express is a lot like the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express — including the part where you get 10% cash back on your first $2,000 in purchases from Amazon.com by January 11, 2017. Think of the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express as the junior version of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express; you’ll get slightly less cash back overall, but you don’t have to pay an annual fee.

Here’s an example of how much you could earn with the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express over the course of a year, if you max out the highest categories and spend $1,000 in each of the other categories:

10% cash back on $2,000 in purchases from Amazon.com $200
3% cash back on $6,000 in grocery purchases $180
2% cash back on gas and select department store purchases $40 ($20 for $1,000 in gas purchases, $20 for $1,000 in department store purchases)
1% cash back on all other purchases $10
$250 bonus cash back after making $1,000 in purchases in the first three months $250
Total cash back $680

Is there a catch? You could earn significantly more cash back — 6% on groceries and 3% on gas and select department stores — if you are willing to pay the $95 annual fee for the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express.

This is where knowing your spending habits comes in handy. Take a look at how much you spend on groceries, gas, and department stores every month, multiply it by 12, and see how much cash back you’d earn with both the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express and the Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express. We’ve made an example chart that you can reference to use with your own numbers:

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express

$400 monthly grocery expenses ($4,800 per year)

$144
$288.00

$120 monthly gas expenses ($1,440 per year)

$28.80
$43.20

$200 monthly department store expenses ($2,400 per year)

$48.00
$72.00

Total cash back

$220.80
$308.20*

*$403.20 minus $95 annual fee.

In this sample case, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express will get you more cash back overall, even with the $95 annual fee.

There’s also the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card, which deserves an honorable mention. This card is valuable if you’re already a Bank of America customer, because your cash rewards jump up by 10% if you redeem your cash back into a Bank of America® checking or savings account.

Here’s an example of how much you could earn with the BankAmericard Cash Rewards™ Credit Card over the course of a year, if you max out the highest categories and spend $1,000 in each of the other categories:

3% on $1,000 in gas purchases per quarter* $120 ($30 per quarter)
2% cash back on $1,500 in grocery and wholesale club purchases per quarter* $120 ($30 per quarter)
1% cash back on all other purchases $10
$100 bonus after making $500 in purchases in the first 90 days $100
10% bonus for redeeming your cash into a Bank of America® checking or savings account $35
Total cash back $385

*Hitting your quarterly maximum of $2,500 in combined gas, grocery, and wholesale club purchases.

This no-annual-fee card isn’t as high-earning as some of our other cash back cards, but if you’re a Bank of America customer, it might be a good card to add to your collection.

The 2% Cards

Discover it® chrome A decent 2% cash back on gas and restaurants for students who may not have the credit history to qualify for a higher-rewards card.

We’ll end our list with two cards each offering 2% cash back: the Citi® Double Cash Card and the Discover it® chrome.

The Discover it® chrome is unique in that it’s a card for students — and if you are (or know) a student, you understand how much students appreciate cash back, but don’t always qualify for a higher-rewards card. You get 2% cash back on gas station and restaurant purchases, and 1% cash back on everything else.

Citi® Double Cash Card This card incentives staying debt-free: You get 1% back for every purchase and another 1% when you pay it off.

The Citi® Double Cash Card has a fun incentive to help you pay off your balances as quickly as possible: You earn 1% on each purchase when you make the purchase, and another 1% when you pay the balance off. We hope that everyone pays off their balance in full every month, but if that’s a pain point for you, the Citi® Double Cash Card can turn it into a pleasure.

Neither of these cards charges annual fees, and both of them let you earn your cash back as actual cash as well as statement credits. Discover it® chrome even lets you redeem your cash back at Amazon.com, if you’re looking to buy that used textbook or new pair of jeans. Discover it® chrome also gives you $20 cash back every school year that you keep your GPA above 3.0, for up to five years, and it’ll match all of the cash back you earn in your first year as a new cardmember.

Here’s an example of how much you could earn with these cards over the course of a year, if you max out the highest categories and spend $1,000 in each of the other categories:

Citi® Double Cash Card

Discover it® chrome

2% cash back on gas and restaurant purchases, for up to $1,000 every quarter (Discover only)
N/A
$80 ($20 every quarter)
1% for all other purchases (Discover only)
N/A
$10
2% cash back for all purchases (Citi only, and we’re going to say you spent $5,000 total)
$100
N/A
$20 GPA bonus (Discover only)
N/A
$20
Cash doubled at the end of your first year as a cardmember (Discover only)
N/A
$110
Total cash back
$100
$220

The catch, as you can probably tell, is that you can earn much more from one of our other cash back credit card options. However, if you’re a student, the Discover it® chrome is worth checking out (as is our full review on the best credit cards for students.)

Other Rewards Cards to Consider

Just because a card isn’t labeled “cash back” doesn’t mean that it doesn’t offer rewards. The best travel credit cards all give you points or miles that can be redeemed toward future travel purchases or as statement credits toward previous travel purchases. Doesn’t sound all that different from cash back, right?

Two of our favorite travel cards are the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card offers 2x miles on travel and restaurant purchases and 1x mile on everything else, which you can then redeem toward any purchase through the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® is the same in reverse: It offers 2x rewards on any purchases, which you can then redeem to pay off travel expenses.

Here’s a chart comparing how much you could earn if you put $5,000 on each card and earned both cards’ intro bonuses:

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard®

Base rewards for $5,000 in purchases
7,500 points*
10,000 miles
Plus bonus rewards
57,500 points
60,000 miles
Plus 25% more value if you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards® (Chase only)
71,875 points
N/A
Plus 5% redemption bonus (Barclaycard only)
N/A
63,000 miles
Total rewards value**
$718.75
$630
Minus annual fee
$623.75
$541

*Based on $2,500 spent on travel and restaurant purchases and $2,500 on all other purchases.
**Both cards redeem 1 cent per point/mile.

Both the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card and the Barclaycard Arrival Plus™ World Elite MasterCard® have annual fees — $95 and $89, respectively — but both of these fees are waived for the first year, which gives you a full year to earn rewards before you have to pay for the privilege.

Pro tip: Combine cards for even more rewards.

If you can’t decide whether to get a cash back card or a travel card, here is our advice: Get both. A good cash back card, when combined with another high-level rewards card, can ensure that you earn the highest reward for as many purchases as possible.

Let’s say you combined the Chase Freedom® with the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card, a go-to card pairing for folks here at Reviews.com. You’d use the Chase Freedom® for every purchase that got 5% cash back, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card for 2x points on travel and restaurants. When you traveled abroad, you could use Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card to ensure you never have to pay foreign transaction fees; back home, you could use Chase Freedom®’s 15-month 0% intro APR on balance transfers to pay off any outstanding credit card debt interest-free.

Here’s how it would break down if you used a dual-card strategy on $4,500 over the course of a few months:

Chase Freedom®

Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card

$1,500 on Chase Freedom®’s 5% rewards categories
$75
N/A
$2,000 on travel and restaurant purchases
N/A
4,000 points (2x points)
$1,000 on other purchases
N/A
1,000 points (1x points)
Bonuses
$175
50,000 points
Plus 25% bonus for redeeming through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
N/A
13,750 points
Total rewards
$250
68,750 points

Your combined rewards value (redeemed through Chase Ultimate Rewards®): $937.50

Take a look at our best travel credit cards and our best airline credit cards to see if you want to combine one of those cards with our top cash back card.

The Bottom Line

Cash back cards can earn you significant rewards, as long as you choose a card that offers the highest cash back in categories that match your highest spending. Combining a cash back card with another rewards card can help you earn even more rewards on even more spending categories.

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