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Cash-back credit cards earn points on your spending that can be redeemed as cash, either transferred to your bank account or applied as credit to your bill.
Depending on the card you use and the purchase you're making, cash-back credit cards can earn anywhere from 1% to 6% back. Even better, many cash-back cards have no annual fee, so you don't have to pay for the privilege of earning rewards.
The best cash-back credit cards in 2021:
|Cash-back credit card||Who is this card best for?||Editors' rating (out of 5)||Annual fee||Learn more|
|Citi® Double Cash Card||Anyone||5.0||$0||Details »|
|Discover it® Secured||Lower credit scores||5.0||$0||Details »|
|Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card||Most bonus categories||4.85||$0||Details »|
|Chase Freedom Flex℠||Highest cash back by category||4.65||None||Details »|
|Chase Freedom Unlimited®||Strong intro APR offer||4.60||$0||Details »|
|Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express||Families||4.30||$95 (waived the first year)||Details »|
|Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card||Cash back on dining||4.25||$95||Details »|
If you're new to rewards credit cards and aren't interested in earning travel points or miles, a cash-back card is the best option for you. With cash-back cards, 1% back will always be 1 cent back, no matter what, and you can use your cash back to lower your monthly bill or transfer it to your checking account, among other options.
We're focused here on the rewards and perks that come with each card. These cards won't be worth it if you're paying interest or late fees. When using a credit card, it's important to pay your balance in full each month, make payments on time, and only spend what you can afford to pay.
Best cash-back credit card overall
In terms of spending rewards, the Citi® Double Cash Card is the best single cash-back card, with 1% back as you spend, and 1% back when you pay your bill. Since you should be paying your bill in full each month, you should earn 2% back on purchases each billing cycle.
Note that the Citi® Double Cash Card has a minimum redemption amount of $25, and if you don't have any account activity for 12 months, unredeemed rewards can expire. Still, 2% across the board is a good earning rate, and the $0 annual fee is attractive, if not uncommon. Whether that's worth passing on a sign-up bonus is up to you.
Discover it® Secured
Best cash-back card for lower credit scores
If you have a lower credit score or a limited credit history, you may not be approved for some of the other cash-back credit card options outlined in this article. In that case, the Discover it® Secured could make the most sense.
Since it's a secured credit card (meaning you put down money as a refundable deposit to "secure" your account), it's easier to get approved for this card.
Best cash-back card for bonus categories
This card from Wells Fargo has one of the more attractive rewards programs you'll find from a no-annual-fee card. While it's marketed as earning "points," those points are worth 1 cent each and can be redeemed for cash, essentially making it a cash-back card.
This card is not a travel card, and lacks many travel-centric perks you might see on other cards with an annual fee, like reimbursement for Global Entry or the ability to transfer points to airline or hotel partners.
The welcome bonus, combined with the high 3% earning rate on popular spending categories including all dining and travel (and 1% on everything else), as well as the $0 annual fee, makes this a stellar option for a cash-back card.
Highest cash back card, by category
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ replaced the Chase Freedom in Chase's lineup of cash-back cards, and the good news is that it's even better than the original. Unlike the Chase Freedom Unlimited®, it earns 5% cash back on up to $1,500 spent in combined purchases within certain bonus categories each quarter of the year (activation is required).
Sometimes there's just one major category per quarter, while other times there can be a few different ones. Past categories have included gas stations, local commuter transportation, department stores, grocery stores, drug stores, restaurants, movie theaters, and even Amazon.
The Chase Freedom Flex℠ also earns 5% cash back on travel booked through Chase Ultimate Rewards, 3% back on dining and drugstores, and 1% back on everything else. These other bonus categories are exactly what you'll find on the Chase Freedom Unlimited®.
Best credit card for 0% intro APR
The Chase Freedom Unlimited® has no annual fee and often has 0% APR for the first 15 months on purchases. After that, there's a 14.99%–23.74% variable APR. If you have a major purchase ahead of you, that introductory offer can be useful.
If you also have a premium card like the Chase Sapphire Reserve®, you can pool your points from the two cards. Then, you'll be able to transfer the whole body of points to partnering frequent flyer programs or use them to book travel through Chase with a bonus.
Plus, there are new bonus categories that can earn up to 5% cash back.
Best cash-back card for families
If you're looking for an American Express cash-back card, the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express is the best option. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers a 0% intro APR on purchases for the first 12 months, before switching to a 13.99% to 23.99% variable APR (See rates).
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express comes with a handful of travel and purchase protections as well.
The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express offers the highest rewards rate available for grocery spending, although there is a $6,000 annual spending cap on that 6% rate. After that, you earn 1%.
Best card for cash back on dining
The downside of this card is that it has a $95 annual fee. The earning rate may make up for the fee in some cases, though.
Frequently asked questions
How do I choose the best cash-back card?
A good cash-back card is one with generous bonus categories, since the goal is to earn as much cash back as possible on your spending. The more bonus categories, the better, and the higher the cash-back rate, the better.
That said, the best cash-back card is different for everyone. To find the best one for you, you'll want to look for a few things:
- The cash-back rate for your common spending categories. Extra cash back for gas isn't much use if you don't drive. Consider how you intend to use this card, and look at the rate for those spending categories.
- How you redeem your cash back. Make sure you're clear on what you're earning. Is it statement credit? Cash? Points? If points, can they be combined with or transferred to other cards you have, or brands you like?
- The annual fee. An annual fee may make or break your choice. Are you willing to pay one? And more importantly, can you afford it comfortably — or will it be effectively wiped out by the cash back you'll earn in a year?
We don't mention the APR because the rate only applies if you're carrying a balance on your credit card. We recommend applying for a cash-back credit card intending to pay off the balance in full each month. For other categories of credit cards, like balance-transfer cards, the APR might be a more important consideration.
If this all sounds too complicated, you can't go wrong by using the Citi® Double Cash Card, which has no annual fee and a flat earning rate of 1% upon spending, then another 1% upon paying your bill.
What are the different types of cash-back cards?
- Flat rate — These cards earn the same rate of cash back on all purchases. For example, the Chase Freedom Unlimited® earns 1.5% back on most spending (the Freedom Unlimited also recently started offering bonus cash back on eligible travel, grocery, and drugstore purchases).
- Select bonus categories — Many other cash-back cards offer bonus cash back (more than 1%) on select spending categories. For example, with the Capital One® Savor® Cash Rewards Credit Card, you'll earn 4% back on dining and entertainment, and 2% back at grocery stores.
- Rotating categories — A few cards, including the Chase Freedom Flex℠, offer bonus cash back on a selection of spending categories that changes every quarter of the year. These cards have a cap on how much bonus cash back you can earn each quarter — with the Chase Freedom Flex℠, you'll earn 5% back on up to $1,500 in combined purchases each quarter (then 1%).
- Some cards are starting to offer yet a fourth format for delivering cash-back rewards: pick your own bonus categories from a list of options. These cards include the Bank of America Cash Rewards credit card and the U.S. Bank Cash+ Visa Signature Card.
What credit card offers the most cash back?
If you don't want to overthink it, the Wells Fargo Propel American Express® card is a good go-to. It offers 3% back on a wide variety of categories, including travel and eating out.
That's not to say you couldn't earn more cash back with another card, though. The Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express earns 6% back on the first $6,000 you spend each calendar year at US supermarkets (then 1% back), and 6% back on select US streaming services, for example, and the Capital One Savor is the most rewarding pick for dining out with 4% back.
How does earning cash back work?
Cash-back credit cards earn you a percentage of cash back — usually at least 1%— on every dollar you spend (or more with cards that have bonus cash-back categories). You can transfer the cash back you earn from these cards to a bank account or use them to wipe charges from your credit card statement.
Credit card issuers also allow you to redeem the cash back you earn for gift cards and merchandise. If you're trying to put money back in your wallet, our top recommendations are to transfer your cash back to a banking account or use it to reduce the amount owed on your credit card statement.
Do cash-back cards actually give you cash?
Cash-back credit cards do give cash, but that's not to say you'll necessarily see the physical cash. You're typically awarded cash back as a credit that you can use to cancel out purchases from your credit card statement, or to redeem for gift cards or merchandise online.
Should I earn cash back or points?
It depends on what you want to do with your rewards. If you want to put money back in your bank account, a cash-back credit card will help you accomplish just that — and you usually won't have to pay a very high annual fee, if you have to pay one at all.
On the other hand, if you're hoping to earn rewards that you can redeem for travel, a card that earns points is more up your alley. Our picks for best points-earning rewards cards earn either Amex Membership Rewards points, Chase Ultimate Rewards points, Citi ThankYou Rewards points, or Capital One miles. You can transfer all three of these currencies to travel partners and redeem them for things like free flights. (Note that while Capital One calls its rewards currency "miles," they aren't miles with a given airline program.)
If you're willing to juggle multiple credit card accounts, there's value in having both cash-back and points-earning cards. If you prefer a single-card strategy, evaluate your goals and consider how much you're willing to pay in annual fees to make the best decision for your situation.
Disclosure: This post is brought to you by the Personal Finance Insider team. We occasionally highlight financial products and services that can help you make smarter decisions with your money. We do not give investment advice or encourage you to adopt a certain investment strategy. If you take action based on one of our recommendations, we get a small share of the revenue from our commerce partners. This does not influence whether we feature a financial product or service. We operate independently from our advertising sales team.
Please note: While the offers mentioned above are accurate at the time of publication, they're subject to change at any time and may have changed, or may no longer be available.
For rates and fees of the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, please click here.