best cash back credit cards
Updated July 13, 2020

8 Best Cash Back Credit Cards

Credit Cards

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It’s a question as old as rewards credit cards: should I get a travel card or a cash back card?

I personally have a mix of both travel and cash back cards because I’m obsessed with maximizing my credit card rewards, but if I had to pick one or the other, I’d opt for cash back cards.

Why?  Cash back cards are much more versatile than their mileage-oriented counterparts.  Also, my wife and I tend to plan our trips around business conferences, and with proper planning, my business can get a tax deduction for a portion of these trips if we charge these trips to my business credit card.  If we cover these trips with travel points, my business wouldn’t get a tax deduction for them at all.

Later in this article I’ll go over some other reasons why you may want to use a cash back card rather than a travel card, but for now, let’s talk through the basics.

What Is a Cash Back Credit Card?

Just like it sounds, a cash back credit card is a card that gives you cash back — typically expressed in terms of a percentage — on purchases made with that card.

With most cash back cards, you redeem the cash back you earn in the form of a statement credit or as a direct deposit to your bank account.

While there are many cash back cards on the market today, the vast majority can be grouped into the three basic categories below.

Basic Cash Back Cards

The most basic cash back cards give a flat cash back percentage ranging from 1% – 2% on all purchases.

These cards are great because they’re so simple and easy-to-understand: you know exactly how much cash back you’re getting on your monthly spend without having to bust out your calculator.  Did you spend $1,000 this month on your 2%-cash-back card?  Congratulations, you’ve earned $20 cash back.

That said, the other two categories of cash back cards I discuss below are a bit more complex in their reward structure but have the potential to be more lucrative depending on your spending habits.

Don't Get It Twisted.

It’s imperative that you pay off your credit card bill in full every month.  If you don’t, the interest charges on your purchases will far exceed any cash back you receive.  Credit card APRs can be upwards of 20%, while cash back rates typically range from 1% to 6%.  Put simply, don’t spend money you don’t have.

Bonus Cash Back Cards

Bonus cash back cards offer an elevated cash back rate for particular bonus spending categories while giving 1% cash back on purchases that don’t fall into a bonus category.

For example, a bonus cash back card may give you 3% cash back at gas stations, 2% cash back at restaurants, and 1% cash back on everything else.

Which bonus cash back card is best for you?  That depends on your spending habits.  If you have a long commute in the car, a cash back card that offers bonus cash back at gas stations is a no-brainer.  Foodie?  A card that gives bonus cash back at restaurants is a must.

Rotating Cash Back Cards

Taking cash back to a whole new level, rotating category cards provide a low base cash back rate (generally 1%) in exchange for cash back rates as high as 5% on categories that change quarterly.

For example, a rotating category card card may offer the bonus structure show in the table below.

QuarterBonus 5% Cash Back Categories
January - MarchAirfare, Wholesale Clubs, Gyms and Health Clubs
April - JuneDepartment Stores, Grocery Stores, and Uber
July - SeptemberMovie Theaters, Home Improvement Stores, and Gas Stations
October - DecemberAmazon, Dining, Entertainment
 

Of course, the trick is that the increased cash back percentages on these categories are not available year-round but only at certain times of the year, so you have to keep track of what the bonus categories are at the moment.

When Cash Back Makes Sense

When it comes to deciding between travel rewards and cash back, there’s truly no one-size-fits-all answer.

Even so, there are some common characteristics of people for whom a cash back card probably makes more sense than a travel card, and I’ve listed some of these traits below.  So if you find yourself identifying with one or several of the profiles below, a cash back card might be right for you.

You Don’t Travel a Lot

This one’s obvious.  If you don’t travel a lot, there’s not much sense in signing up for a travel card.

Interested in Travel Cards

Interested in Travel Cards?

If after reading this section you've concluded that travel cards are more your thing, check out our top picks for travel cards!

See the List

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You’re Paying Down Debt

Maybe you love travel, but during this season of your life you are working toward other financial goals like paying down your debt.  Bravo!  There’s nothing like a little delayed gratification to get where you want to be in life!

A good cash back card can help you slash your debt quicker if you commit to putting the rewards you earn toward your debt.

Also, while the top cash back cards are generally only accessible to those with good or excellent credit, those with a lower credit score can still qualify for some pretty awesome cash back cards like the Capital One® QuicksilverOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card.

It's a Trap!

As great as cash back credit cards are, don’t fall into the trap of justifying additional spending to rack up more cash back. In other words, don’t justify a $100 splurge just to get a dollar or two cash back.

You Don’t Like Annual Fees

While there certainly are exceptions, cash back cards generally have lower annual fees than travel cards.

In fact, most of the credit cards on the list below have no annual fee.

So if you’re not too keen on paying your credit card issuer hundreds of dollars a year for the benefit of packing their plastic, a cash back card might be just what you’re looking for.

You Don’t Go Out a Lot

Travel cards typically give you the best bang for your buck on restaurants and travel spending.  For example, it’s not uncommon for a travel card to give double, triple, or even quadruple points on either restaurant or travel spending while only giving what amounts to 1%-back rewards on all other spending.

So if you’re more of the homebody type, a no-frills cash back card is probably going to provide you with more benefit than a travel card will.

There's More to the Story.

There are exceptions to the “rule” that cash back cards come up short when it comes to dining and entertainment rewards.  For example, the Capital One® SavorOne® Cash Rewards Credit Card and the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card offer 3% cash back and 4% cash back, respectively, on dining and entertainment.

You’re Obsessed with Investing

If you think that YOLO is for losers, that the only worth that matters in your net worth, and that the most important thing in life is maximizing your investment accounts, then cash back is definitely for you.

OK, I might be exaggerating a little bit there, but the truth is you can invest your cash back rewards into the market so they compound over time.  This isn’t possible with travel rewards.

8 Best Cash Back Cards

When it comes to cash back cards, it’s really hard to say which one is the “best” because everybody’s spending habits are different.  The cash back card that will give me the most cash back is likely different than the card that will give you the most cash back.

That said, I did the research and came up with eight different “awards” for cash back cards (for example, the Capital One SavorOne is “Best for Dining and Entertainment”).  Hopefully one of these award categories I came up with will resonate with you so you can find the perfect cash back card for your situation.

Don't Settle. Ever.

You don’t have to settle for one cash back card! I personally use five cash back cards on a regular basis.  Of course, keep in mind that it may not be the best idea from a credit score perspective to apply for all nine of the cards below, so study the qualities of each and only apply for the one(s) that you think will truly benefit you the most.

Amex Blue Cash Everyday

  • Blue Cash Everyday
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    Blue Cash Everyday Card: Best Bonus Cash Back Card
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    • Basics: The Blue Cash Everyday Card from American Express offers 3% Cash Back on your first $6,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per year and 2% Cash Back on all your purchases at U.S. gas stations and select U.S. department stores. It gives you 1% Cash Back on all other purchases, including spending at grocery stores beyond the first $6,000 per year.
    • Example: The average American household spends $4,300 on groceries per year; $2,000 on gas per year; and $1,900 on clothing per year. Assuming that this household purchases all of these items at U.S. supermarkets, U.S. gas stations, and qualifying U.S. department stores, respectively, and uses the Blue Cash Everyday to do so, it will receive $207 cash back on these purchases alone.
    • Bottom Line: This is a phenomenal card that provides significant rewards on everyday spending categories. That said, if you have outsized spending at U.S. supermarkets and U.S. gas stations, be sure to check out the Blue Cash Preferred since it offers higher cash back rates on those categories.
    • Welcome Offer

      Earn 20% back when you purchase with Amazon.com using the card in the first 6 months, up to $200.

    • Annual Fee

      $0

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Amex Blue Cash Preferred

  • Blue Cash Preferred Card
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    Blue Cash Preferred Card: Best for Large Families
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    • Basics: The Blue Cash Preferred Card from American Express offers 6% cash back on your first $6,000 in purchases at U.S. supermarkets per year, 6% back on select U.S. streaming subscriptions, 3% back on transit purchases (including Uber, Lyft, parking, tolls, and train fares), and 3% cash back on all your purchases at U.S. gas stations. It gives you 1% cash back on all other purchases, including spending at grocery stores beyond the first $6,000 per year. It has a $95 annual fee but $0 for the first year which they are offering until 12/10/2020.
    • Example: Let's say that you annually spend $6,000 at U.S. supermarkets, $250 on streaming subscriptions such as Netflix and Spotify, and $2,000 at U.S. gas stations. If you use the Blue Cash Preferred for all of these purchases, you will receive $435 cash back annually. Netted against the card's $95 annual fee, you'll end up with $340 back in your pocket.
    • Bottom Line: If you have a large household with a lot of hungry mouths to feed, this card with its whopping 6% cash back at U.S. supermarkets could be a great fit for you. And with its 3% unlimited cash back at U.S. gas stations, this card is also a top choice for commuters. However, if your grocery spending isn't anywhere close to $500 monthly and you don't buy a lot of gas, the Blue Cash Everyday might be a better choice.
    • Welcome Offer

      $300 with $3,000 spend within first six months from opening account

    • Annual Fee

      $95, $0 for the first year -- offer expires 12/10/2020

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Capital One QuicksilverOne

  • Capital One Quicksilver One
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    Capital One QuicksilverOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Less-Than-Perfect Credit
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    • Basics: This card gives those with less-than-perfect credit the opportunity to earn unlimited 1.5% cash back on all purchases with a low $39 annual fee.
    • Example: If you spend $6,000 annually on this card, you will earn $90 cash back. Netted with the annual fee of $39, you will end up with $51 back in your pocket. Make sure you are able to put at least $2,600 on this card annually or you will earn less cash back than the annual fee.
    • Bottom Line: While this card's benefits are nothing to write home about, and it does come with a (small) annual fee, it is the best cash back card out there for those who are building their credit.
    • Welcome Offer

      None at this time

    • Annual Fee

      $39

    • Credit Score

      Average, Fair, Limited

Capital One Savor

  • capital one savor
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    Capital One Savor Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Socialites
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    • Basics: This card offers 4% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back at grocery stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. It has a $95 annual fee that is waived for the first year.
    • Example: Let's say you spend $400 a month on dining, $300 a month on entertainment, and $300 a month on groceries. If you use this card for all of these purchases, you will receive $408 cash back annually on these purchases alone. Netted against the card's $95 annual fee, you'll end up with $313 back in your pocket. Keep in mind that the annual fee is waived for the first year.
    • Bottom Line: If you hit the town more often than most, this card could be the one for you. On the other hand, if you're on a budget — but still treat yourself every now and then — the no-annual-fee Capital One SavorOne might be a better choice.
    • Welcome Offer

      $300 with $3,000 spend within first three months from opening account

    • Annual Fee

      $95, waived for the first year

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Capital One SavorOne

  • Capital One SavorOne
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    Capital One SavorOne Cash Rewards Credit Card: Best for Dining and Entertainment
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    • Basics: This card offers 3% cash back on dining and entertainment, 2% cash back at grocery stores, and 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Example: The average American household spends $6,600 on dining and entertainment and $4,300 on groceries. If your spending mimics these amounts and you use this card for all of these purchases, you will receive $284 cash back annually on these purchases alone.
    • Bottom Line: This card is the best no-annual-fee cash back card on the market right now for dining and entertainment. Keep in mind that this card's sister card, the Capital One Savor, comes with an annual fee but offers a higher cash back percentage on dining and entertainment.
    • Welcome Offer

      $200 with $500 spend within first three months from opening account

    • Annual Fee

      $0

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Chase Freedom

  • Chase Freedom
    Chase Freedom: Best Rotating Category Card
    • Basics: The Chase Freedom offers 5% cash back on your first $1,500 in purchases made in quarterly-rotated categories. It gives you 1% cash back on all other purchases, including spending on the rotating categories beyond $1,500 during the quarter.
    • Example: If you spend the maximum $1,500 in each quarterly category during the year, you would earn $75 per quarter or $300 per year just from the rotating categories. You would also get 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Bottom Line: While a bit unpredictable since you don't know what the next quarter's until about two weeks before the quarter begins, the 5% bonus cash back rate with no annual fee sure feels too good to pass up.
    • Sign-Up Bonus

      $150 with $500 spend within first three months from opening account

    • Annual Fee

      $0

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Citi Double Cash

  • Citi Double Cash
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    Citi Double Cash: Best Basic Cash Back Card
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    • Basics: This card essentially gives you 2% cash back on everything. You get 1% cash back when you swipe and an additional 1% when you make a payment.
    • Example: Excluding housing costs (which typically can't be paid by credit card), the average American household spends $35,000 per year. If you put $35,000 annually on this card, you would earn $700 cash back.
    • Bottom Line: While other cards may give you more rewards in certain categories like groceries or gas, this card has you covered when it comes to the bulk of your spending. I personally use this card whenever I make a purchase that doesn't fall into a bonus category on another card.
    • Welcome Offer

      None at this time

    • Annual Fee

      $0

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

U.S. Bank Cash+

  • us bank cash
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    U.S. Bank Cash+: Most Versatile Cash Back Card
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    • Basics: The U.S. Bank Cash+ lets you decide what you want to receive bonus cash back on! It gives you 5% cash back on your first $2,000 in purchases on two categories that you choose each quarter. These categories include TV/internet/streaming services, cell phone usage, home utilities, furniture stores, fast food, department stores, select clothing stores, electronics stores, sporting goods stores, movie theaters, gyms, and ground transportation. It also gives you unlimited 2% cash back each quarter at your choice of grocery stores, gas stations, or restaurants. You earn 1% cash back on all other purchases.
    • Example: Because you can choose quarterly which categories you want to receive bonus cash back on, a little planning will go a long way with the U.S. Bank Cash+. For example, maybe from July through September you will run your air conditioner all day as well as hit up the cinema to watch all the summer blockbusters, so it might make sense to select home utilities and movie theaters as your 5%-back categories for this quarter. Assuming you spend $2,000 in these two categories combined, you'll earn $100 from these categories in this quarter alone. Maximize your 5%-back rewards every quarter, and you're looking at $400 cash back just on the 5%-back categories. On top of this, let's say that you elect grocery stores as your 2% category and you spend the national household average of $4,300 on groceries during the year. This is an additional $86 cash back for a total of $486 cash back just on bonus category spending alone!
    • Bottom Line: This card is best for those who don't mind putting in a little extra effort and planning in order to get as much cash back as possible.
    • Sign-Up Bonus

      $150 with $500 spend within first three months from opening account

    • Annual Fee

      $0

    • Credit Score

      Good - Excellent

Responses are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Logan Allec, CPA

Logan is a practicing CPA, Certified Student Loan Professional, and founder of Money Done Right, which he launched in July 2017. After spending nearly a decade in the corporate world helping big businesses save money, he launched his blog with the goal of helping everyday Americans earn, save, and invest more money. Learn more about Logan.

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