5 Best Cash Back Credit Cards

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Many people prefer cash back rewards to other credit card perks such as frequent flyer miles. Cash has the advantage of being simple to understand and universally accepted. Unlike points and miles, cash can earn interest when unused and are not subject to the constantly changing terms and conditions of corporate loyalty programs.

Furthermore, cash back rewards are considered to be a discount on a purchase, not income that needs to be declared for tax purposes.

My family is a perfect example of how you can use credit cards to receive cash back. Using our cards for day-to-day purchases, we may spend as much as $2,500 with them each month. When we are not looking for travel rewards, we use a card that returns 2% on all purchases in order to earn an additional $50 a month in cash back. That equals a return of $600 each year that we can add to our discretionary spending or apply to our savings.

Just one word of caution — cash back credit cards should only be used by people who can pay their credit card balances in full and on time. To do otherwise virtually ensures that you will owe more in interest and penalties than you will ever receive as cash back.

Once you have decided to earn credit card rewards in the form of cash back, you should definitely consider one of these top 5 cash back rewards cards.

The Top 5 Credit Cards Featuring Cash Back Rewards

In my research, these are the top cash-back cards currently available.

Discover it

Discover it offers 5% cash back in rotating quarterly categories on up to $1,500 in purchases when you sign up, and 1% cash back on all other purchases. (The current category for July through September 2014 is gas stations.) If you shop through their online portal, you can get 5-20% cash back at 200+ online retailers like Apple, Macy's and Best Buy. Besides being a great cash rewards credit card, it also offers protection from higher APRs due to late payments and you get a free FICO® Credit Score on your monthly statement so you can keep track of your credit. There is no annual fee.

As a sign-up bonus, you can get 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 14 months — then a variable purchase APR applies (currently 10.99% - 22.99%). A 3% fee applies to each transferred balance.

Click here to apply for the Discover it Card

Citi® Double Cash Card

The Citi® Double Cash Card stands out from other credit cards offering cash back rewards in that you earn cash back not once, but twice on every purchase. You get 1% cash back when you buy, plus another 1% cash back as you pay for those purchases. No need to wait until you pay off a purchase to earn the additional cash back — you'll get it whether you can pay in full or over time, as long as you pay at least the minimum amount due.

Unlike many other cards, the Double Cash card has no category restrictions, no enrollments in rotating categories, and no limits on the amount of cash back that you earn. There's no annual fee, either.

Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express

The Blue Cash Everyday® Card from American Express offers 3% cash back at supermarkets (up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 1% after that), 2% at US gas stations and select US department stores, and 1% on other purchases. There is no annual fee.

As a sign-up offer, you can get $100 back after you spend $1,000 on purchases within the first 3 months. Cash back comes in the form of Reward Dollars, which you can redeem as statement credit. You also get 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers for the first 15 months. After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99%-21.99%.

  • Get $100 back after you spend $1,000 on purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. You will receive $100 back in the form of a statement credit.
  • Hassle-free cash back: no enrollment required, the same great reward categories year-round.
  • Earn Cash Back: 3% US supermarkets up to $6,000 per year in purchases, 2% at US gas stations & select US dept stores, 1% on other purchases. Terms and limitations apply.
  • Cash back is received in the form of Reward Dollars that can be redeemed as a statement credit.
  • No Annual Fee. A Credit Card that gives you cash back with a 0% Intro APR Offer on purchases and balance transfers for 15 months.
  • After that, your APR will be a variable rate, currently 12.99%-21.99% based on your creditworthiness and other factors.
  • Terms and restrictions apply.

Upromise World MasterCard®

Upromise World MasterCard® offers several ways to earn cash back. Get 5% cash back on eligible online shopping through their portal, 4% at thousands of participating Upromise Dining Restaurants, up to 3% cash back on eligible gas purchases from Exxon or Mobil, 2% cash back at movie theaters, and 1% on everything else. There are no caps. You also have various options on cashing out your rewards -- contributing to a Upromise 529 College Savings plan, depositing to a Sallie Mae High-Yield Savings Account, making a payment towards a Sallie Mae services loan, or redeeming a check. There is no annual fee.

As a sign-up bonus, you can get $25 cash back with your first purchase, and a 0% APR on balance transfers and purchases for the first 12 months.

Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Credit Card

Don't want to bother with rotating quarterly categories? The Capital One Quicksilver Cash Rewards Card will get you 1.5% cash back on all purchases. There is no limit to the amount of cash you can earn, and no minimums to redeem the cash back. The cash back doesn't expire, either! You can get cash back in the form of an account credit, check, or gift card. There is no annual fee.

There is currently a sign up offer of $100 bonus once you spend $500 on purchases within the first 3 months. There is also a 0% APR on purchases and balance transfers until June 2015 (a 3% fee applies to each balance transferred). This card comes with the Capital One® Credit Tracker, which allows you to easily monitor your monthly credit score anytime, anywhere — for free!

Click here to apply for the Capital One® Quicksilver® Cash Rewards Card

Within the credit card industry, the term “deadbeat” is used as slang to describe customers who always pay their balances in full and on time. These customers don’t provide the banks with any profits from interest payments or late fees, but they are still valued customers due to the merchant fees their spending generates and their impeccable payment history. If you are a proud member of this group, and you have no interest in travel rewards, you should be using one of these cards that offer the maximum cash back for your spending.

Back to the Credit Card Guide

Editorial Note: Any opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any card issuer.

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Guest's picture

My whole family uses Vanguard for investments. But I've heard good things about Fidelity as well. Maybe this card reward will give me the incentive to finally give them a look.

Guest's picture

"Capital OneLike the Fidelity card, Capital One also offers a 2% cash back rate, but in a Visa that is more widely accepted than Fidelity’s American Express"

It's been a long time since I've run into any merchants who accept VISA but not American Express. I don't think that's a big concern

Guest's picture

I find it interesting that this site is even talking about the use of credit cards. Many Americans are in debt because of the temptations to spend. They were and are able to spend because of the credit-card offers. The attractive logos, reward incentives, initial low interest rates, etc. have all been too enticing for many Americans to resist. I suggest that this site take a stand to "say no" to credit. Or, does "Wise Bread" receive money from the credit-card industry to survive???

Will Chen's picture

Hi Steve,

Your concern is understandable. That is why Jason specifically warned in this article that only people who pay off their monthly balance fully should try cashback cards. He said this twice in the article.

I'm sure some people agree with your view that all credit cards are bad--in fact there are probably some Wise Bread writers who believes this as well, and I look forward to reading their rebuttal articles. =)

But that's the thing about Wise Bread. We're a group blog and we try to bring you a variety of views about personal finance.

I think certain people definitely should "say no" to credit. But that doesn't mean a personal finance website should never talk about the proper ways to maximizing credit card rewards.

Every major personal finance website picks and talks about rewards credit cards. Just a quick Google shows that Time Magazine, US News & World Report, MSNBC, New York Times and Lifehacker have written similar articles. Rewards credit cards is also a popular topic among most blogs.

And like all those news outlets and blogs, yes, Wise Bread is supported by advertising.

But that in no way affects our picks. We ask Jason--a credit card expert--to pick the best cards according to his opinion. We would never ask him to pick a certain card to appease an advertiser.

Do we make money off these articles? Yes. After Jason picks the cards and turn in his article, we then look at each program he picked to see if there are any affiliate links we can insert. Some of them do (like pick #5 Chase Freedom) and some of them don't have affiliate programs (like pick #1 AARP).

This is really no different from writing an article called 5 Best Personal Finance Books, and then adding amazon links to those books after the books have been selected.

I hope this answers some of your questions. It is our goal to help responsible consumers maximize their rewards from all financial instruments at their disposal. But of course we'll continue to write articles to help educate debt-laden readers on how to stay away from credit cards altogether and use cash instead.

Guest's picture

Steve, I agree with your assessment of those who spent like children. Like it or not, credit is what makes the world go 'round and it's quite foolhardy not to establish a good line of credit. A person who is irresponsible with credit will be likewise with cash. People pay more and miss out in the long run without it.

Guest's picture

You must know nothing about personal finance if you honestly think a discussion about credit cards and their benefits has no place on this site. I've been in finance for 30 plus years and I'll be the first to say that credit cards with incentives and rewards have been one of the best financial tools to ever be. There are many different ways to have a successful financial portfolio in today's economy. I have somewhere around 28,000 clients and I manage and review their financials. I would say the current trend is that easily 8 out of 10 of these clients share in common the proper use of credit. It would be foolish to say all of their success derives from the use of credit, however, it has played a major role in many cases. If you and I both go to the grocery store and spend the exact same amount of money, and you use cash and I use a rewards card, we leave having spent the exact same amount of money, and we leave with the exact same product to show for the money. But I leave having made the smarter financial decision, because I leave actually having spent anywhere from 2-6% less than you on the same stuff from the same store, all because of my method of payment. You say using credit cards is foolish. I say, when used properly, and understanding exactly how the reward program is structured, it's foolish NOT to use them. In summation, this site is pretty well geared towards giving solid, quality financial advise to its followers. I'm THANKFUL, the bloggers have refused to allow the immature, irresponsible behavior of many in regards to the use of credit cards, detour them from presenting the benefits of credit to those who aspire to financial success.

Guest's picture

I'm proud to be one of the "deadbeats" hated by the credit card companies.

I earn my cash back, never pay interest or late fees, and have zero loyalty towards companies. If I see a better deal I jump ship. Never considered the aarp card before though. Always thought there was an age limit. Thank you for the tip.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the detailed choices you mentioned. The AARP will be getting an application from me, 5% is pretty good, better than what I'm using right now.

Guest's picture

I am torn on this subject. For someone like me, very responsible with their money since I was just a child buying candy in a store, I could benefit from these cards. Most of my clients though, not so much. They would just be another way for either them or their spouses to dig themselves a bigger hole.

It is actually very easy to be Economically Intelligent if you have the will to resist stupid things. For example: A USB controlled Nerf Missile launcher for the office I seen at Staples the other day.... I mean really $20.00 bucks for that??

Guest's picture

Very interesting list. I had never heard of the AARP card before. What is involved with becoming an associate member? Does it cost any money?

Guest's picture

Currently I'm using Citibank Cash Back. Once the accumulated cash back reach $50, it will be credited into my credit card's account. Based on my monthly credit card expenses, I'm constantly received $50 in every 2 months. Definitely I will not go back to bonus or rewards type credit card.

Guest's picture

The Discover More card isn't listed here, right now they have a 15 month introductory APR offer and a beastly 5% cash back in rotating categories. I've used Chase and Amex in the past, but I gotta say Discover's customer service is on point. The only downside to the More card is you only get .25% cash back outside the rotating categories until you spend $3,000 on the card. At that point you begin to get 1% cash back on all purchases - and of course the 5% cash back on quarterly categories always stays true. Just another card to consider.

Guest's picture
Max G

I have a spark business card but rarely use it because I don't have many business expenses yet. I do like Capital One cards. Very easy to use.

Guest's picture
Karen Elstone

Do you suggest/advise any CANADIAN credit cards for Cash Back?

I only know of one = RBC MC = Royal Bank of Canada M/C.



do you have an article or section on "Balance Protection" on credit cards?

I'm finding all my credit cards (3), banks, frequently calling for me to sign up. Average cost per month $9.95 + tax (12% in BC Canada).

I never! Carry a balance, so no reason to call I didnt think.

But they put the "SCARE" tactic into you, asking "how would you pay for your c. Credit if you were in hospital & cannot work? Or if you are laid off suddenly?"...

What would you advise?
I'm sure they must have "Balance Protection" or similar in the USA as well.
(they assure you that they will cover the minimum balance paid, to protect your credit score. While hospitalised or unannounced, god forbid!).

Thank you,

Karen Elstone
Vancouver BC

PS: I read your site all! time time very helpful & forward to my Canadian friends!

Guest's picture

I'm reading this article on 3/08/13. The US Bank Cash+ doesn't offer 5% back on airfare. Did it when this article was originally written and posted?

Guest's picture

I tried to apply for a better rewards card but many of the high rewards cards have a minimum income that is higher than the 49K that I made last year. I have an excellent credit rating but they only looked at my income not my credit score or my other assets.

Guest's picture

I've researched this subject to no end. Here's my NO ANNUAL FEE results, and what I personally use: 1. American Express Blue Cash Everyday 2. DiscoverIT 3. Chase Freedom. Signing up for these cards will get you several hundred dollars in free bonuses as well.

Guest's picture

You forgot to add Capital One's Quicksilver, that's the best card as well on the market. 1.5% cashback on each purchase.

Guest's picture

I have the Discover It and Chase Freedom. Both cards are great for earning cash back without annual fees. Lately, I've been receiving many balance transfer checks/offers from both cards which I actually used to consolidate my credit card debts without paying any interest for up to 18 months!

Guest's picture

I'm trying to compare cards where the redemption basically goes back to your bank account. I use several different credit cards now but would love to consolidate and be able to get money back and funneled back to my savings to add to my kids college fund. A few seemed to be possible contenders: Chase Freedom, Fidelity, and US Bank. Any recommendations between those?